The NRLW could one day expand beyond the boundaries of the men’s competition as the league announced plans for additional teams in both 2023 and 2024.
The expansion of the NRLW to eight teams next year and 10 the following headlined a raft of changes announced on Tuesday.
Players will receive a 28 per cent pay rise for the 2022 competition, which will be played later this year, with a salary cap of $350,000 to be implemented.
That will include an increase on the minimum wage from $8000 to $10,000, with all figures expected to rise again in 2023 once a collective bargaining agreement is complete.
The next season will start after the State of Origin period, which will double to a two-game series that strangely lacks a decider.
Each club will be able to contract two marquee players on a full-time basis outside of the salary cap, lifting their pay and in turn better spreading talent across the league.
A call on new clubs will be made in July, with North Queensland and Canberra the two early favourites after making clear submissions to join.
Both clubs reasserted their push for a women’s team on Tuesday, with Cowboys CEO Jeff Reibel expressing “unquestionable disappointment” expansion was not coming in 2022.
The Warriors will also be given an early chance after being forced to withdraw from the currently running postponed 2021 season due to COVID-19.
Aside from them, Melbourne, Cronulla, Wests Tigers, South Sydney and Canterbury have made clear their intent to join current clubs Brisbane, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Parramatta, St George Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters.
“You want to think about the criteria very carefully,” NRL CEO Andrew Abdo said.
“The location will play part of that, but also existing pathways and existing talent.
“It’s great for players to grow up playing junior fully and then aspire to play at the elite level in that region and not having to relocate.
“Which clubs are going to be putting forward proposals around how they’re planning to invest all the way down (will also be crucial).”
While the current round of expansion will likely only include current NRL clubs, there is breadth to go beyond those as Abdo dreams of a larger competition.
That could include the potential of sides in the Pacific Islands or Papua New Guinea, as well as interest from Perth with Western Australia the current champions from teams outside NSW, ACT and Queensland.
“There’s nothing stopping us from thinking differently about where women’s clubs may be situated beyond an NRL club licence,” Abdo said.
“It’s difficult to predict where we will end because hopefully we never do, we just keep growing.”
It comes amid negotiations for a historic women’s CBA, with the changes bringing in health insurance for players and greater security in contracts.
“The changes announced today are a step in the right direction,” Brisbane prop and RLPA women’s advisory group member Chelsea Lenarduzzi said.
“Progress like this is a great indicator of things to come.”